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Some households face Catastrophe as food aid delivery remains blocked and prices spike

  • Alert
  • South Sudan
  • June 24, 2015
Some households face Catastrophe as food aid delivery remains blocked and prices spike

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  • Summary
  • Situation
  • Addendum

  • Summary

    Intensified conflict in southern Unity State and parts of Upper Nile State has displaced tens of thousands of people and blocked humanitarian access to areas already classified as Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Expanding conflict is also driving increased acute food insecurity outside of Greater Upper Nile (GUN). Meanwhile, deteriorating macroeconomic conditions have driven a sharp spike in fuel and staple food prices, further limiting food access and constraining humanitarian operations. These shocks have come at a time when food insecurity and acute malnutrition are seasonally high, coinciding with the May to July lean season. The severity of food insecurity in June and July is likely to be worse than previously anticipated, especially in areas cut-off from assistance, where an increasing number of households are likely to face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)1.  Efforts to end the conflict and restore humanitarian access are critical. Urgent action is required to ensure provision of emergency humanitarian assistance to areas worst-affected by conflict. 


    A representative household survey conducted by FEWS NET in Mayendit County, Unity State (Figure 1) in late April indicated high levels of food insecurity. Three quarters of surveyed households had Poor food consumption in the previous 7 days based on the Food Consumption Score. Almost 90 percent of households were moderately food insecure and nearly 10 percent severely food insecure according to the Household Hunger Scale. The survey also suggested that most households had limited coping capacity and that more than 60 percent of the population depended on humanitarian assistance as their most important food source. Other inter-agency assessments conducted in March and April reflected similar outcomes across most of Unity State. For example, four nutrition surveys conducted by nutrition partners between April and early May indicated a prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) between 20 and 30 percent. In all four surveys the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) was between 5 and 8 percent and two of them reported a crude death rate (CDR) above 1.5 deaths/10,000/day. Together, these data confirm earlier analysis suggesting that Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) were widespread in Unity State as of April, meaning that large portions of the population were unable to meet basic survival needs, even with full employment of coping strategies and the delivery of assistance.

    Findings from another household survey conducted by FEWS NET in Ayod County, Jonglei State (Figure 1), in May reflect Emergency (IPC Phase 4) among significant portions of the population, with some households likely in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). More than 10 percent of surveyed households reported a Household Hunger Score of 5 or 6, indicating frequent, severe food shortages during the past 30 days. Among these households, other indicators confirm that significant food shortages were occurring despite heavy use of coping strategies (Figure 2). Nutrition surveys conducted in Ayod and three other counties in Jonglei and Upper Nile states between February and May reported a GAM prevalence of greater than 20 percent. The prevalence of SAM in Ayod was 5.8 percent.

    Food insecurity in Greater Upper Nile has likely worsened since these surveys were conducted given subsequent large-scale clashes between government and opposition forces in Unity State (Guit, Leer, Koch, Mayendit, and Panyijar counties) and Upper Nile State (Melut and Malakal counties). This conflict has displaced an estimated 100,000 people in Unity State alone, further limiting already low levels of trade and market activities, and preventing humanitarian assistance delivery. Many of the worst affected areas of southern Unity and Upper Nile State have not received any food assistance for one to two months. Without access to food assistance, poor households in conflict-affected areas will experience increasing food deficits, and levels of global acute malnutrition and mortality will likely rise further. The size of the population facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) has likely increased.

    At a national level, growing macroeconomic instability continues to affect food and fuel trade across South Sudan, impacting food availability and access. The South Sudanese Pound (SSP) to U.S. Dollar (USD) parallel exchange rate increased from 6.1 SSP/USD in January 2015 to 11.6 SSP in May 2015, reflecting a decline in available foreign exchange. Growing uncertainty about the macroeconomic situation coupled with increased risks related to expanding conflict and rising transport costs have made it harder for traders to do business in South Sudan. Traders are also no longer able to obtain lines of government credit to import food commodities at the official exchange rate (2.9 SSD/USD).  As a result, the number of traders and the volume of formal imports has likely declined. For example, recent interviews suggest that only 20 large staple food importers are currently operating in Juba, compared to 50 at this time last year and 150 in mid-2013. Together, these factors have driven dramatic spikes in staple food prices (Figure 3).  Between March and May, sorghum prices, which increased between 60 and 90 percent in Juba, Aweil, and Wau, are well above the five-year average.  Markets within GUN are less affected by the deteriorating exchange rate, but prices remain high nonetheless. In Malakal, for example, sorghum prices rose by 67 percent between March and May.

    More than three and a half million people, nearly a third of South Sudan’s population are currently experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Some households in areas worst-affected by conflict are likely facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). If insecurity continues to prevent food assistance delivery to southern Unity in the coming two months, the number of households facing Catastrophe (Phase 5) is likely to increase. Continued deterioration of macroeconomic conditions is expected to depress trade further, pushing food and fuel prices upward. Shortages of basic commodities and increased operating costs related to the depreciation of the SSP will constrain humanitarian operations at a time when conflict and the rainy season are already limited access to many of the worst affected areas. Efforts to end the conflict and restore humanitarian access are necessary, and humanitarian agencies should take additional steps to develop contingency plans to mitigate the impacts of increasing macroeconomic shocks on humanitarian response operations.  

    1Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, describes acute food insecurity at the household level and area level.  At the household level, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is described as: “Even with any humanitarian assistance, household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even with full employment of coping strategies.”  Famine (IPC Phase 5) applies to the area level and is declared when more than 20 percent of households are classified in Catastrophe, the prevalence of GAM exceeds 30 percent, and the Crude Death Rate exceeds 2/10,000/day.


    The following addendum provides additional information on the IPC scale and the distinction between household and area classification, especially as it relates to more extreme food security situations.

    1. The IPC has two different reference tables, one of which is used to classify the food security of households and another which is used to classify food security of an area. The full IPC manual can be found here.
    2. The IPC defines Famine (IPC Phase 5 on the Area Reference Table) as occurring when, in a specific area, the following three criteria are all met: more than 20 percent of households are classified as facing Catastrophe, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under 5 (GAM) exceeds 30 percent, and the Crude Death Rate exceeds 2/10,000 people/day.
    3. The IPC defines Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5 on the Household Reference Table) as when a convergence of available evidence indicates that “Even with any humanitarian assistance, [the] household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even with full employment of coping strategies.” The IPC suggests the following indicators of Catastrophe at the household level:
    • A Household Hunger Score of 6 on a scale of 0 to 6.2
    • A Food Consumption Score worse than “Poor” (“Poor” food consumption is defined as an FCS less than 21 on a scale of 0-112. Poor food consumption is equivalent to eating only cereals and vegetables each day over the past 7 days)
    • A Household Dietary Diversity Score of 1 or 2 out of 12, meaning that households consumed only 1 or 2 food groups in the last 24 hours.
    • A Coping Strategies Index score far above reference indicating that households are using substantially more coping strategies than usual in an attempt to access food.
    • A “survival deficit” of >50 percent based on Household economy outcome analysis meaning that households can access less than 50 percent of energy needed for survival.
    1. It is possible to have households which meet the criteria listed under bullet number 3, and are therefore classified as Catastrophe, but not have an ongoing Famine. This could be because the proportion of households classified as Catastrophe is less than 20 percent. Alternatively, the proportion of households classified in Catastrophe could be greater than 20 percent but levels of acute malnutrition and mortality may remain below the Famine threshold.
    2. Currently, available data does not indicate that a Famine is currently occurring in South Sudan. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is widespread and the recent FEWS NET surveys suggest that some households are likely facing Catastrophe. However, the proportion of households facing Catastrophe is less than 10 percent. In addition, among recent SMART surveys none found a GAM prevalence greater than 30 percent and only one reported a CDR above 2/10,000/day. In this survey, conducted in Panyijiar County, 30 percent of deaths were related to conflict. Food insecurity did not appear to be the primary driver of mortality.

    2 A score of 6 means that households have experienced each of the following conditions more than 10 times in the past 30 days: (1) had no food to eat of any kind in your house because of lack of resources to get food, (2) go to sleep at night hungry because there was not enough food, (3) go a whole day and night without eating anything at all because there was not enough food. Note that a score of 5 means that households experienced two of the three strategies more than 10 times and one strategy 1-10 times in the last 30 days. Conceptually, FEWS NET believes that a score of 5 also reflects extreme food deficits at the household level.

    Figures Figure 1. Locations of April/May 2015 surveys

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Locations of April/May 2015 surveys

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2.  Evidence of households in Catastrophe in Ayod and Mayendit counties

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Evidence of households in Catastrophe in Ayod and Mayendit counties

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Parallel exchange rate and white sorghum prices from select markets in South Sudan

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Parallel exchange rate and white sorghum prices from select markets in South Sudan

    Source: WFP, FEWS NET

    FEWS NET will publish an Alert to highlight a current or anticipated shock expected to drive a sharp deterioration in food security, such that a humanitarian food assistance response is imminently needed.

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